Today I indulge in a guilty pleasure of mine — two actually. Today, I knead. I walked away from my bread and pasta habits a few years back, necessary sacrifices to achieve a goal. I reached the goal some time ago, and I celebrated with a bread and pasta orgy of sorts. I made macaroni and cheese for Sunday dinner, whipped up a fresh loaf of sourdough bread to use for lunches through the week, and then repurposed the stale half of it to make amazing bread pudding for dessert the following weekend.
Briefly, I felt very in charge of my life, maintaining my goals while eating whatever I wished. This sort of happiness never lasts, though, does it? The scales and my clothing agreed; I had reached a “certain age” where nothing came without a price. Nothing. The choice felt like punishment: Maintain the weight goal or eat bread and pasta every week. I had a mini midlife crisis and felt very sorry for myself for a few days. Quality of life matters so much more, I reasoned. Who wants to live a long healthy life without macaroni and cheese?
I decided on a compromise that allowed me to shift my midlife crisis to other, more meaningful (and thus agonizing) aspects of my life. If I hit the weight range numbers for three straight weeks, I get to indulge and eat, without shame or repercussions, all the pasta and bread that I desire in one meal. And if I am going to indulge, I want it to be the freshest damn bread and pasta it can be. Which brings me to kneading. Fresh bread and fresh pasta both require a good bit of it, and I have tendonitis in the area of my hand that makes my left thumb functional. (I think it’s tendonitis…it is definitely some sort of repetitive motion injury…an occupational hazard.) My grip isn’t what it should be, and it hurts when I try to snap the fingers on my left hand.
It hurts to knead, too, but I found a way through the pain today. I have met my three-week weight maintenance responsibilities, and I cannot think of a more pleasant way to spend a Sunday than kneading, proofing, braiding and baking cheese bread to go with my take on marinara with Italian sausage and portobellas. I’ll toss the sauce, which uses tomatoes I grew in my garden last summer and sauce made with more of the same, with fresh, scratch-made fettuccine. I kneaded until my left hand became too sore for me to continue. My husband finished the job for the last two minutes, and together we worked the pasta roller and then the fettuccine cutter, laying out the long yellow strands to dry.
Kneading has a rhythm. The cadence arises from hands slapping dough, rolling and pushing and stretching. Muscles in both hands and arms tighten and relax, tighten and relax, tighten and relax until a smoothly elastic form emerges – the unlikely marriage of flour and water, egg and salt. My motions follow in traditions that are hundreds of centuries old, creating staples as necessary to life as breath and water. The repetition creates a kind of Zen state, and everything drops away except the back and forth, the push and pull, tighten and relax, tighten and relax, tighten and relax…